Pre-trial discovery encapsulates an increasingly problematic area of law because it’s so ripe for abuse. A case out of Arkansas continues this trend. In North Carolina, N.C.G.S. § 15A-903 requires prosecutors to supply defendants with the information the state plans to use to convict the defendant within a reasonable amount of time before the state actually uses the information. ‘Notice’ of an opportunity to defend would be largely ineffective if the individual had to guess what exactly to defend.
The statute itself is intentionally broad, and with deference to the defendant, as it’s meant to require the state to disclose information about the case difficult to anticipate. Otherwise, the state’s failure to manifest candor in conviction “erodes the public trust not only in district attorneys but in any public official. State v. Moncree, 655 S.E.2d 464, at 468 (N.C. App. 2008).
By all means, North Carolina has had its fair share of notorious discovery blunders, as we too readily purge our collective consciousness of the abuse of discovery involved in former District Attorney Nifong’s prosecution of the Duke lacrosse fiasco, but a case out of Arkansas shocks even that level of inexcusable abuse. As Debra Cassens Weiss reports for the ABA Journal, technical indications and file structuring suggest that an attorney with the Fort Smith Police Department provided discovery to the requesting attorney, Matthew Campbell, infected with malware designed to “steal passwords, install malicious software, and give someone else command and control of the infected computer,” according to Attorney Campbell’s subsequent motion for sanctions.
I’m sorry, what?
While admittedly in a civil case, the attorney for the Fort Smith Police Department still reflects upon the police department and those actions threaten to further alienate the public from the authority that’s meant to protect it, not control it. North Carolina knows all too well the distrust from the public expected when such actions take place. These fears are very real and continue to mount in the wake of riots sparked throughout the nation in response to police action. It’s so bad in Baltimore that the city banned the public from Camden Yards. Police departments nationwide face a growing level of public distrust in fulfillment of the fears Moncree and those like it prophesized. A position of authority is one that requires a relationship of trust from officers to prosecutors. The widespread abuse of that authority will only continue to dismantle the very civil society those before us fought to construct.